Fitness first – Essential kit to kick start your workouts
Editor of Running Fitness magazine, Amy Curtis, explains which gadgets and accessories will help you make the most of your training sessions.
I’ve been hearing a lot about ‘naked’ running recently (no, not like that), with athletes and amateurs alike all advocating casting off the tech and running free. That’s with no music, no coaching app, no heart monitor – just you, your mind and the open road.
Obviously this isn’t a new idea; in fact, it’s the original idea, and there’s something to be said for ditching the stats and listening to your body every now and then, but I don’t believe it’s the way forward. Technological advances in sport are just that: advancements, and I, for one, have benefitted hugely from running to the beat of a particular song (sometimes the only way to get through that final km) or getting my act together when the informative chap on my running app tells me I’m losing time.
There’s a balance to be had, for sure, but I think the integration of tech into training has become more and more natural, with convenience, comfort and genuinely positive results. Fitness sessions – proper, regular, rewarding fitness sessions – are now available to all without the intimidation of joining a gym, the expense of a personal trainer or the fear of getting it wrong and giving up. And anything that can do that certainly gets my vote.
If you have no idea of your fitness levels or what you’re capable of, a fitness monitor is a brilliant way to start – it’ll awaken your nerdy statistic side as you find yourself checking how many steps you’ve taken, how your heart-rate varied and some will even monitor your sleeping patterns.
If you’re tentatively thinking about pootling round your local park, download one of the many free running apps onto your smartphone, such as mapmyrun or Strava; the basic settings will track your speed, distance and route, with the option of a voice in your ear telling you your progress each km or mile.
I’ve had my head turned by Strava’s newest addition, Strava Local (for Android and iOS) which has examined users’ popular routes to collate a database of great runs in cities all over the world, with varying difficulties and tourist pointers such as where to get a good coffee or where to stop and take a picture – brilliant for holiday runs and best of all it’s free.
Running to the beat is one of the most satisfying things for me - my spirit soars every time a certain track comes on. Spotify have got hold of this idea and created a fantastic app that analyses your pace and plays music to match, so you can hold on to that runner’s high for longer.
There are hundreds of sport specific headphones available, designed to stay secure and sound great. Many come with clever ear hooks, snug fitting buds and various clips to keep the cable from bouncing around (I‘ve resorted to using a second bulldog clip in the past) and it’s worth looking for sweat resistant designs that will last longer than a few weeks.
Bluetooth headphones aren’t new, but until recently have been big and heavy – hardly ideal when running! Thankfully the latest designs from brands such as Monster and Plantronics are so light you can forget you’re wearing them, while the open ear bud design lets in just enough background noise for safety – great for road running.
But Jabra has taken sports headphones to the next level with their Bluetooth Sports Pulse that also features a heart rate monitor. As you run the headphones (and smartphone app) can even tell you to speed up or slow down depending on your heart rate to hit the perfect training zones.
Carrying your smartphone on a run can be a real pain – if it won’t fit in the teeny pockets your shorts provide you with, get kitted out with an armband. I’m loving the Shocksock eziFlex range as they’re affordable and don’t have that scratchy Velcro fastening that many do – just a comfy adjustable strap.
The new Fitbit Surge is an investment at £199.99 but it really is all singing all dancing, monitoring your calorie burn, workout intensity, pulse rate and sleep patterns, while GPS tracks your runs for distance, pace and elevation.
I think it’s a good one to start with because, if you’re serious about getting fit, you’ll soon grow out of anything with fewer tricks, making the overall cost much higher as you upgrade.
If you’re not one to travel light, an armband might not cut the mustard. Flipbelt is a brilliant new product that’s like the slimmer, fitter cousin of the bumbag. Whack all your money, keys, phone etc inside, flip it closed (no fiddly fastenings) and wrap it round you. It’s nice and secure, so no chaffing either!
This is a subject close to my heart – for years I coupled running with gym classes and had consistent improvement as I carried on. Then I moved house, quit my gym and my stats just crashed – kms were slower and my energy levels were all over the place. I hadn’t realised how a few gym classes were keeping me going. So now I’m swimming a couple of times a week too and it makes ALL THE DIFFERENCE.
If you still need your favourite tracks spurring you on, don’t worry, there are products to help you, like the Swimbuds water proof headphones that have a selection of ear buds to fit you, a shorter than usual cable to avoid arm tangle as you swim and a 100 per cent watertight system so you can take your tunes into the lanes.
But waterproof headphones are useless without a MP3 player or smartphone to match. Mobiles such as the Sony Xperia Z3 are impervious to a few lengths but there are some great cases available including the Naztech Vault that’s safe to depths of 20m and shock resistant.
Bargain boot camp
If swimming’s not for you, I’d like to go back to those free apps I mentioned and tell you about Freeletics. It’s basically your own private boot camp with lunges, burpees and the rest of those killers, set out in sessions to build your strength and fitness. Try not to give up on your first go – I promise you’ll find it easier if you stick with it!